The Curious Case of Article 370

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Mian Tufail

THE annulment of Article 370 and 35(A) had witnessed a major political upheaval in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The local political parties had faced massive disintegration while some of the most prominent political faces kept switching to other parties. And all this disintegration and new loyalties had birthed new political parties away from the traditional National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). And the new parties used the abrogation of Article 370 as an opportunity to establish themselves and their political struggle based on a strong notion of nationalism.

Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, all these political leaders had assembled hurriedly under a single umbrella to fight and safeguard the special provision of Article 370 enshrined in the Indian Constitution for the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Once the Government of India incarcerated the entire Valley-based political class, the ideological departure was visible after their release. Today, most of them have either accepted abrogation as either fait accompli or a fight with a bleak future.

In 2019, the then IAS officer-turned-political leader Shah Faesal had said in a BBC interview that the mainstream had been buried in Kashmir with the abrogation of Article 370. So you can either be a stooge or a separatist now. On the 3rd of July, the Supreme Court issued a notice to hear bulk petitions challenging the Article 370 abrogation. The top court constituted a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, Justice S K Kaul, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice B R Gavai and Justice Surya Kant. The hearing on the matter will begin on July 11. Pertinently, the notice was issued under the case title ‘Shah Faesal and others vs. Union of India and Another’.

Notably, Shah Faesal had bid adieu to his short political stint in 2020 and has joined back his service in the IAS as Deputy Secretary in the Union Ministry of Culture. His name in the case title has forced him to issue a clarification regarding his stand on Article 370. He says, “Article 370, for many Kashmiris like me, is a thing of the past. The Jhelum and the Ganga have merged in the great Indian Ocean for good. There is no going back. There is only marching forward”. He further adds that he had withdrawn his petition of challenging the abrogation long back in 2020.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the central government has carried out a number of changes in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. More than a 100 central laws have been applied to the UT; the erstwhile cadre of IAS has been merged with the AGMUT cadre; the Home Ministry is handling the direct affairs of J&K; and the Lieutenant Governor is heading the newly carved UT. The substantial changes leave a narrow scope for the reversal of decision. All eyes are on the Supreme Court now and if the apex court seals the fate of Article 370 as fait accompli, then the political class will lose the future political alternative of relevance among the masses.

Notably, the National Conference, the PDP and other mainstream parties have welcomed the notification of the Supreme Court to hear petitions challenging abrogation of Article 370. The NC Vice President Omar Abdullah welcomed the move and said his party was looking forward to the hearings beginning in right earnest now. But the very next day, while addressing his workers in the Ganderbal district of Central Kashmir, Omar reiterated that National Conference pinned no hopes on the present dispensation in Delhi to return the special status to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This kind of flip-flop in the statements regarding Article 370 points at the weak ground the political leaders hold after the central government’s changes in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Talking to Kashmir Central, the National Conference spokesperson Sarah Hayat Shah has said, “The withdrawal of petition by Shah Faesal would not bear any impact on the tens of petitions submitted by the NC and other groups”. She maintains that her party will fight the legal battle in the Supreme Court and they are confident that their case is strong to be pleaded. She adds, “Only the Supreme Court has the power to reverse the changes made in 2019. The BJP is scared after the abrogation of Article 370 as they are aware that the people in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are not happy with the degradation of the state into a UT; that’s why they are running away from elections in Jammu and Kashmir”.

People’s Democratic Party leader Naeem Akhtar, while welcoming the top court’s move, says, “We have been waiting for this day for the last four years. We were disempowered and disenfranchised. The only hope we have is from the judiciary of this country”.

While political parties heave a sigh of relief and hope after the notification of hearing by the Supreme Court, people, however, have minimal hopes of restoration of Article 370. Sahir Husain, a Political Science scholar in Srinagar, while talking to Kashmir Central, maintains that the Home Minister has promised the return of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir in the Parliament. But the Article 370 abrogation was the agenda of the BJP ever since the party took birth in the country. He adds: “The political parties in Kashmir have stopped talking about Article 370 as they have realised that their politics lacks statesmanship and commitment. Most of these parties are either banking on statehood or Assembly elections. Legally, many of these mainstream parties had filed petitions in the Supreme Court but as far I understand, they have realised their bleak chances of winning the Article back as was evident after the statement of Shah Faesal yesterday. We must bear in mind that Faesal had started a mega political venture in Kashmir prior to the annulment of Article 370 but has shunted away from the legacy he earned in his short stint”.

Pertinently, Shah Faesal started his political party in Jammu and Kashmir in March 2019 after resigning from the IAS and articulated the intention to safeguard the special provisions of Jammu and Kashmir. Later, post August 2019, he parted ways from his party and desired to join the Civil Services back and was inducted by the central government.

The fate of Article 370 hangs in the Supreme Court but much water has flown under the bridge, as was reiterated by the Home Minister during his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir, that the abrogation of Article 370 opened the floodgates of development and contained corruption and separatism in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Well, mainstream politicians in Jammu and Kashmir are aware about their weak locus standi but they would not like to miss an opportunity to give it a last try in the top court of the country.

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